These are my ruminations on life, design, and the pursuit of happiness…

Spring has sprung

Well my busy life was not to be outdone by Spring herself, who burst on the scene in a blaze of glory this past month. This ornamental cherry lives just off the back deck, and is always the first to remind me of the change of the season.

The blossoms are truly spectacular on a clear day. Look at that sky!

Further back in the yard, we have this wisteria covered arbor.

It not only looks good, it smells fabulous!

The cherry and the wisteria bloom simultaneously, and are separated by the new bright chartreuse leaves of the pin oak. You can see the oak a bit in the first picture, it all makes a great color combo.

We also have other flowers showing off this time of year, like this sweet pea bush.

I have one pea plant in the back by the wisteria arbor, and one out front by the artichoke.

Yes, we have artichokes now too. This is a stupendous plant if you live in the right climate. I cut it way back once a year, usually around November I think, and otherwise I ignore it, other than when I’m hungry. Unfortunately the kids now are old enough to realize the deliciousness of artichokes, and I have to share the bounty.

Speaking of lazy gardening (were we?), I didn’t bother ripping out the tomatoes last year, and they started producing again in March! One of the only times my laziness has been rewarded. Now if I can just pick them before the opossums steal them. Or is it Rats? Probably better not to think about it too much.

The oranges do make me happy to live where I do, and sad for my brother freezing in Brooklyn. Wait, they had a warm spell this week didn’t they? Ok. Oranges guilt free:

So there you go. A busy spring. We’re getting all caught up though. Really.

The Bungalow Remodel: Going Up!

This story of our very, very, very, fine houe is a long winded one, and wasn’t easy to write about. The project took so long, and I had so many photos (and emotions) to sift through, it was hard to condense into a blog post. Here then, is the story of (mainly) the outside, and our decision to add a second floor.

In case you missed the beginning of the saga, where we bought this cute little bungalow, it is here.

And the part about the first practical and cosmetic renovations is here.

Which brings us to the crazy part of the story.

Knowing we needed a new roof, and a new kitchen, and a new foundation (the house was visibly sunk in the middle, and the kids toys kept rolling to one corner.) We thought, let’s go up!

We were a little nervous, because we hadn’t seen any remodeled bungalows that were done with any success, but we drove all over both Long Beach and Pasadena and took photos of original two story houses of the same era, and collected a couple dozen reprinted plan books to get design ideas from. I wanted to have the new house look original on the inside, as well as on the outside.

The first architect we tried using wanted to give me a great room, and just wasn’t getting the “old inside” concept, even when I would draw in a “breakfast nook” and give her dimensions, it wasn’t appearing on the plan. I think she was having her assistant draw the plans, which is fine, but not giving her our art direction, which wasn’t. I finally drew up the whole plan view of what we wanted for the upstairs and downstairs myself, in Adobe Illustrator, and gave it to her assistant to copy. (1 pica= 1 foot!) (I did take drafting in high school….) When she then seemed to have no ideas for elevations, (She did nothing, with the excuse that she didn’t know which way we wanted the ridge beam to run!) I respectfully parted ways. (And was told “You are never going to have it look original, the way you want it to” – so much for respect!)

At that point we had literally done all of the design ourselves, so we decided to hire a “Building Designer” to transfer my plan into CAD, hopefully do elevations, get the engineering done, and get it through the city. He attempted elevations, but apparently wanted to put every drag and drop CAD bungalow-ish window he could in the house. He had giant leaded glass Prairie Style windows, ones with little squares in all corners, traditional double hung, everything but anything that remotely resembled what we had originally, and were keeping, for the downstairs. By that time I knew what to do, and scanned in his elevation. Then using Photoshop, I covered everything he had done with shingle texture and began duplicating the downstairs windows and proportions, and creating banks of windows for the upstairs, also changing the roofline, and deck trim and pier in the process.
I then gave it back to the “Building Designer”, who looked at it and said “Yeah, thats what I was thinking.”

I’ll stop griping now, and move on to the construction.

First we had to pour a new foundation, which required taking off the siding, propping up the house, and digging a giant trench around it.
(The last thing I’ll say in regards to the “Building Designer” is that we parted ways about this time, because he had the engineering for the foundation done wrong, then tried to bill us to change it. Which wasn’t even cool.)

It was big fun for the kids and the mail lady to “walk the plank” to deliver the mail.
Oh, yes, did I fail to mention? We lived inside for the whole duration of the project.

So If you took my class at CSULB in 2003,4,or5, and I seemed a little crazy, it was because I was living in here.

With two small children.

And no privacy. (That’s my original bedroom. At least they threw a tarp over the bed.)

It was crazy.

We tried to cheer ourselves up by putting the kids art up over the drywall.

It was cold too. Tape, drywall, and plastic wrap really don’t keep out the cold and rain. And we had a lot of rain that winter. I have an awesome video of Sadie dancing in the rain (in the house) in her new fairy costume that Christmas, but sadly, it isn’t digital.

Eventually the framing began.

And eventually I became immune to the mess. Speaking of messes, our neighbor was not happy with how long the project was taking. One day I overheard her asking another neighbor if we had “run out of money”. (Drywall and tape is really not soundproof either. I could hear everything going on outside, like I was standing there with them.) We hadn’t run out of money. They say though you can get building done Right, Inexpensively, or Quickly, and if you are lucky you get 2 out of three. We chose Right and Inexpensive.

It had been 10 months up to this point. That surprises me now, because at the time it felt like it had been forever.

Framing goes pretty quickly, but left new hazards for the kids. The contractor used to give them a dime for every dropped nail they could find. This kept them busy many an afternoon.

It was a big day when the porch concrete was poured. Note the ghosting on the porch piers, (the horizontal line at the top) That’s how much the porch roof had to be raised, after 92 years of the porch piers settling. (About 5 inches!)

We had all of the new windows custom made by a company here in Long Beach who have been making them since the 20’s. I made them plan lists like this.

Finally, a year and 8 months after we had started, the siding began to go on.

The “belly band” detail on the house is one of my favorite parts. I am not ashamed to say we stole it from Greene and Greene’s Blacker House.

We wouldn’t see the upstairs shingled for another 4 months.
I have no idea, other than to say the tail end of a project takes the most time. Especially in our case, as we were planning to do all the interior finish work, including building all the cabinets, ourselves. We also wound up trimming all of the exterior windows, and putting up the deck rail ourselves. Ourselves being Dave and I.

You maybe wondering where the kids were during this whole time. I have to confess that we just let them play nearby, or gave them tasks to help. Theo had his own cordless electric drill at the age of 4. Really. Looking at a word book one day, he knew all of the tools, but nothing of normal kitchen stuff like spatula or mixer.
I haven’t really spoken of the kitchen situation during this period of my life, so I will give you these words:
George Foreman. Microwave.

It was a long haul, but two years and seven months after they first started digging the foundation, we were finally able to put in the landscape.

And the outside was done! We had turned 1200 square feet into about 2400, now had 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 sleeping porches upstairs, and still managed to keep the whole backyard intact. (I believe in preserving outdoor spaces.)

Of course the inside has it’s own story. One that again, I’m not quite sure how to approach. Room by room? Chronologically? Let me know your thoughts, and I’ll start sifting through the photo archives…

Our House is a very very very fine house (part 2)

(Part one here)
Ok, this post is a bit overdue, but I have been searching through every stack, drawer, and picnic basket (don’t ask) full of photos in my house and come to this conclusion: apparently 15 years ago, when we did the first round of work on our house, I took almost no after photos. Drat!
Here’s what I can share of the “early years” We gutted the bathroom, and demoed an illegal bathroom that was stuck in a corner of the tiny bedroom. While removing some wall board in the bedroom, we uncovered this fabulous Lady & the Tramp wallpaper. Unfortunately it could not be saved.
We pulled out all the nasty carpet in the house and repaired termite damage in various places in the floors. We also pried up the kitchen floor, which you may recall was black and white linoleum that had been painted over in green. Underneath was old growth fir, which along with the rest of the wood floors, we refinished.
We pulled out all the old plumbing ourselves, (in the process discovering the washing machine had been just dumping it’s water into the wall), dug the trenches for new plumbing, and had copper pipes put in. We also got all new wiring. We made new drawers for the kitchen, stripped yards of wallpaper, and painted the inside of the whole house.
The bathroom got new hex tile, vintage clawfoot tub, and a wood wainscot and storage cabinet that we built and painted green. We also added the stained glass in the transom above the door, and I stenciled a duck border too. (To go with my collection of vintage rubber ducks.)
All in all, we worked every weekend for about 4 months before we could even move in. We did everything ourselves, with the exception of the plumbing, electrical and tile install. It was exhausting, but in the end, we had our cute little bungalow, newly painted with colors of green and yellow. (Hard to believe now, but having color on the walls was a big deal 15 years ago).
The year before my daughter was due, we had the outside painted so it went from this:
To this:
The back yard also got landscaped, and went from this:
To this:
We loved our little bungalow (it was just under 1200 square feet) but after Sadie, then Theo came along, we had to decide: Move or remodel? We were worried that if we sold our house to move to a bigger house, whoever bought our house would just level it. We couldn’t let that happen, and were arrogant enough (if I’m being honest) to believe that we at least would try to remodel it “right”.
So stay tuned for Part 3: Going Up!